“So, how’d the meeting go?” asked Mona, her nonchalant tone unable to mask the eagerness in her green eyes.
Lizzie, Monty, and Matteo all swapped apprehensive looks from the entryway. “It was productive,” was Matteo’s stiff answer.
The meeting between the Iuppiter Court, the envoys from the Semes Tribe, and the former bandits had taken up most of their day. The participants met around noon and continued their planning well into early evening, refining Benji’s strategy as well as assigning code words and protocols. When the meeting had finally come to an end, Lizzie tasked Maggie with getting their siblings and the demons back to the boarding house, starving for some normalcy as well as a proper meal. Mona arrived shortly before the meeting ended and was helping Zenobia put the finishing touches on their meal when the three walked in.
Mona frowned at her father’s detached tone. “Everything okay?”
“It’s all good,” Monty assured her with a warm smile, which Lizzie tried to mirror. “We’re just drained from all that overthinking. Is dinner ready yet?”
“Almost!” Zenobia called out from the kitchen. “Matt, can you open this wine? I haven’t started the sauce yet because I’m worried I’ll take out an eye trying to open it myself…”
Lizzie watched as Matteo’s red-orange energy shifted to a parakeet green along the edges, a small smirk creeping on his lips. “Coming.”
She couldn’t help but genuinely smile over his secret reaction to his wife’s request. He loves her so much, and the little things with her make him so happy…
“We should help set the table,” Monty suggested, to which Lizzie nodded and followed him absentmindedly through the kitchen and to the dining room. Zenobia paused from her cooking to spin around and take hold of Monty and Lizzie’s faces in turn, planting big kisses on their cheeks. The former bandit had learned this was their family’s way of greeting one another, though she couldn’t imagine ever greeting everyone in her family in such a fashion, let alone as often as Zenobia and Desideria did. It didn’t bother her–she knew by the older woman’s bluish-greenish aura that she had no ill intentions, only the desire to showcase her appreciation to the people around her.
Marrying an angel can’t be easy… Lizzie, who was in the middle of setting plates on top of the placemats Monty was adorning the table with, peeked over at the prince. And raising an angel in this world can’t be easy, either. Not only is he expected to risk his life for an entire colony, but he’s also told to lead them. That’s a lot of pressure for someone in their early twenties.
His coal black hair had grown in recent months, the formerly shaved sides filling in while the top portion spilled over his eyes in the form of a few wavy ringlets. His emerald eyes were distant as he quietly completed his task, and his aura was very different from its usual colors. His sunny yellow and strong green were instead a dim yellow and a dull orange with brown deep within, and the whole thing was covered in dingy pink splotches.
She set down the final plate and approached the angel. He noticed her once she was close enough, and she saw the beginnings of a disingenuous smile tug at the corners of his mouth.
No. Don’t comfort me with fake feelings–show me the darkness. I can take it.
Before he could say anything, she took his left hand in both of hers, brought it to her lips, and planted a kiss on his knuckles. Her cheeks burned as she gazed up at him, hoping her eyes would convey what she couldn’t.
“We can do this.”
The change was almost instant; the yellow and pink in the angel’s aura brightened considerably, and the orange seemed to evaporate as a bold green took its place. Satisfied with the outcome, Lizzie was about to pull away when Monty tugged at her hands, slowly pulling her into a snug embrace. He planted a kiss on the top of her head, and she heard him whisper:
She held him tightly, her face buried in her chest as she let her worries melt away.
The dinner was a breath of fresh air after all the strategizing they had done, and by the time the young couple was walking back to Monty’s home, Lizzie wore a big smile on her face.
We can do this. We really can.
She wondered for a moment if she should feel weird at all that they continued on as if nothing were happening. Sharing a delicious meal and some laughs with her boyfriend’s family, and going back to his place late at night to take a shower and share his bed–it all reminded Lizzie of those romance fiction novels she read in her spare time while still attending the colonial school. Evenings like the one she just had were regular, everyday occurrences, which contradicted the narratives portrayed in her favorite fantasy and science fiction series. Whenever a huge conflict was on the horizon, the entire world seemed to stop for the protagonists; they were so focused on the upcoming fight that it consumed the days leading up to it. Diligent training, excessive planning, and sleepless nights were all staples for the main character. They just didn’t have the time nor the emotional stability to juggle the normal and the abnormal.
But this isn’t a book, and I’m not some “chosen one” thrust into a random, end-of-the-world fight, Lizzie reminded herself as she shut off the water and stepped out of the shower. Monty was in the next room, writing in his journal as he waited for his turn to freshen up. I’m neither an angel nor a demon. I have no special powers–I’m not a master strategist or a technopath. I don’t have superhuman speed or strength. I’m not here because I’m special–I’m here because I just happened to be born into a gang of evil, merciless scavengers.
The mirror to the prince’s bathroom had fogged up a decent amount following her short shower. Lizzie reached up as high as she could and placed her open palm on the mirror, wiping away the condensation to reveal her naked form. Between her short stature and slender frame, she knew exactly how she appeared to others: young, frail. Weak.
But she wasn’t weak–she was taught how to steal, lie, and fight dirty. She knew how to maim and kill, and she knew how to accomplish those feats by several means, whether they were instant or slow, dragging on for days. She could scale tall buildings and have no fear of falling, and she could run into a fight without concern for her own safety.
Weak? Elizabeth Peters, daughter to Jebediah Peters and Katherine Shaw of the Jesup Gang, was anything but.
Her upper lip curled at the thought of her own name. The sound it made as it came from her father’s mouth. The knowledge that he had chosen it for her, decided on her title all on his own without any concern for her mother’s wishes.
I wish I had been the one to kill him, she realized, her chest tight. I wish I could take that name back from him, make it my own… But Clint took him out and left me with everything that man gave me. My name, my scars, my memories–all remnants of a life that feels so long ago.
She was startled by a short knock at the door. “Baby? You okay?”
“Y-Yeah,” she answered hurriedly, sighing softly at her depressing, intrusive trip down memory lane. It’s a good thing Monty can’t see aura, or he’d be able to read me as easily as I do him.
Lizzie was drying herself when he asked, “You sure? Can I come in?”
The door opened, and a rush of cold air flooded the bathroom, chasing away the heat that had built up from her shower. Lizzie shuddered and hung her towel on a hook between the shower and the door, her eyes averted.
Monty said nothing. He idled by the bathroom door for a few breaths before he snatched her pajamas–one of his old t-shirts–off the edge of the sink and disappeared into his room.
Lizzie scoffed at his absurd, random action. “Seriously? I need that, Monty–your room is too cold!”
She heard a drawer open as he countered, “No, you need something warmer.”
Frowning, Lizzie pulled the shower cap off her head, allowing her braids to cascade down her back as she listened to the sound of Monty shutting the drawer and returning to where she stood. When he re-entered the bathroom, he wore a stern expression, and he held out a clump of thick fabric.
Why such a serious face? Lizzie bit her lip to keep from laughing as she accepted the clothing and unfolded it, her eyes widening as she studied it. The prince had given her a heather grey cardigan sweater with round black buttons and two front pockets. She slipped into the outerwear, loving the soft caress of the knit wool and the criss-cross patterns adorning the piece. She already felt warmer as she buttoned up, and she couldn’t help but beam up at her partner.
“Thank you! I’m going to start wearing only this.”
Monty’s face reddened as he ran his hand through his hair, his eyes traveling down her body and back up again. “ ‘Only this’? I don’t mind.”
Warmth spread across her face as Lizzie was reminded that she hadn’t put on anything else besides the oversized sweater, but his reaction made her smirk. I love that he still gets so flustered around me.
“Good. Get used to it,” she teased. Then the human got on her tip-toes and met him for a kiss. It was short, not enough time to really linger, but she could still taste his anticipation. “Shower’s all yours. See you in a bit.”
Lizzie was about to leave the restroom when she felt his left arm wrap around her torso, trapping her against him as he held her tightly from behind. He leaned down so that her right shoulder was tucked beneath his chin, and she could feel his heart pound against her back. She counted eleven heartbeats before he spoke again.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Her eyebrows rose as she turned her head to meet his gaze. His eyes bore into hers; they harbored nothing but concern. I guess you can read me, too.
“I will be,” she promised. Her right hand reached up to cradle his face, hoping her touch and expression could relay her complete adoration for this man. “Thank you for checking on me.”
He leaned into her touch and kissed her palm, not breaking eye contact. “Want to talk about it when I finish my shower?”
She nodded, not trusting her words, and the two shared another gentle yet breathy kiss. When Monty pulled away, he had an easy smile on his lips. “Cool. I’ll be out in a few.”
Then Lizzie staggered out of the bathroom and sat on the bed in a daze, only vaguely aware that he had shut the door between them.